Plattsburgh Mayor Responds To Comptroller Fiscal Stress Score

Sep 28, 2018

In 2013, New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli implemented a Fiscal Stress Monitoring System that evaluates local governments. This week the office issued the scores for municipalities with fiscal years that ended on Dec. 31, 2017.  Plattsburgh was among the communities listed with the second-highest level of fiscal stress.  As WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports, the score was not a surprise to Mayor Colin Read.

In 2016, the city of Plattsburgh faced a $6.9 million deficit and 7 percent property tax hike. When Colin Read was sworn in to his first term on January 1st 2017, he immediately began to make cuts that have totaled more than a million dollars, merged or eliminated four departments, and laid off nearly a dozen city employees. He implemented a five-year budget planning process to replenish the fund balance, which is a key indicator used by the state comptroller to determine a community’s fiscal stress.

Read says the comptroller’s office provides a worksheet, so they knew what the score would be. In a printed response he said he expects another “bad score or two in the near future…”    “The single biggest determinant for the score in the comptroller’s audit is whether a city has sufficient reserves to weather any unexpected events. And we’ve let our reserves dwindle down from about the equivalent of three months of reserves down to about a week’s worth of reserves. So that’s what really hit us and it was so obvious it was going to occur. I mean you could’ve seen it back as early as 2014 or 2015. So I wasn’t particularly surprised. The only way we remedy that score is to build up those reserves and to ensure that our expenses are below our revenues.”
Bradley:  “The reserve that you’re referring to is the Fund Balance. Why is it so important?”
Mayor Read: “The fund balance is designed to take care of any unexpected event like a union negotiation, a settlement in court, etc. And we’ve had a number of examples of events that have occurred that are simply larger than the fund balance that we had maintained. So we had to borrow against other funds etc. just to basically make ends meet and that’s not really not an appropriate way to run a city. We just need a little buffer, a just in case fund, that we’ve completely depleted.”
Bradley:  “Mayor Read how do you think the implementation of the five year budget planning process has perhaps helped to  change the fiscal stress score?”
Mayor Read: “Oh dramatically. If we hadn’t done these various steps that were very hard to do our fiscal score would have been perhaps the worst in the entire state. We just missed the worst category by point-eight points. We scored 64.2. The next threshold to the significant fiscal stress, the highest category, is 65. So we just barely missed that. We may not be able to stay in moderate fiscal stress this year. There are still some looming settlements that we have to pay that will probably push us over that threshold when we look at the 2018 data.  But with the budget we’re producing in 2019 and 2020 I think we’ll finally start to see the city going in the right direction.  We’re going in the right direction now but it’s going to take a couple years for that to be reflected in a fund balance that starts to replenish itself.”

Franklin and Rockland Counties and the city of Albany are among the other communities listed with Plattsburgh at the second-highest level of stress.

Communities receiving a designation of “significant fiscal stress,” the most severe level, are: the counties of Nassau, Monroe, Suffolk and Westchester; the cities of Niagara Falls, Poughkeepsie and Watervliet; and the towns of German Flatts, Oyster Bay and Parish.

Links provided by the NYS Comptroller's office for more information:

The report:
https://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/fiscalmonitoring/pdf/common-themes-munis-2017.pdf

For the most up-to-date list of municipalities in stress for fiscal year ending 2017:
https://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/fiscalmonitoring/localgovernments/pdf/2017/munis-stressed.pdf

For a list of non-filers for fiscal year ending 2017, visit:
https://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/fiscalmonitoring/localgovernments/pdf/2017/munis-stressed.pdf

To sort fiscal scores by year and entity name, visit:
http://wwe1.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/fiscalmonitoring/fsms.cfm

For more detailed information about the Comptroller’s fiscal stress monitoring system and to view reports related to local government fiscal stress visit: www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/fiscalmonitoring/index.htm